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Bewitched, Bothered, Buried Under Latex

July 29, 1990|John M. Wilson \f7

Anjelica Huston wasn't thrilled with the idea of sitting for two hours each morning over a period of several weeks being turned into "the most extreme hag of a witch you've ever seen" for Warner Bros.' "The Witches," due out Aug. 24. But John Stephenson, supervisor of Jim Henson's Creature Shop in London, who oversaw special makeup and animatronics for the film, says Huston came through like a trouper.

Huston had an "unpleasant experience" with makeup for Michael Jackson's "Captain EO," Stephenson says, and "she was worried about getting under all that makeup again. It's not pleasant to be covered in latex. But she put up with it extremely well. She was very professional."

"Witches," made in association with Lorimar, is the first feature from Jim Henson Productions since the recent death of the Muppet master. Based on the children's fable by Roald Dahl, and directed by Nicolas Roeg, the film has Huston in dual roles: the intimidating Miss Ernst and the Grand High Witch--who hatches a diabolical scheme to rid England of all children by turning them into mice.

For the transformation, Huston was outfitted with such prostheses as chin whiskers, purple contact lenses, scabby hands, darkened teeth and elongated fingers.

But the real challenge, says Stephenson, was turning the film's two child stars (Jasen Fisher, Charlie Potter) into mice. It was done over several stages, using makeup and "optical tricks to make them shrink," then going to animatronic mice, and finally, in some scenes, real mice.

"The mice were a huge problem," says Stephenson of the 14 weeks he and his crew spent planning and constructing the special effects. "We had to create mice for the boys in three different scales, from life-size, about three inches, to 10 times life-size.

"The difficulty was putting them in proper context, building the right-sized props and sets."

Expect more than two mice by the end of the picture--about 40 or 50, none too pleased about it--and a happy ending to the tail.

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